Release Year: 2015
Genre: Adventure, Fantasy, Sci-Fi
Director: J.J. Abrams
Star Wars. You know it. You love it. You probably had at least one Boba Fett toy growing up—or, if you're anything like the super nerds that populate the Shmoopiverse, you had Millennium Falcon-patterned bed sheets, pretended that every snow day took place on the ice planet Hoth, and still pretend to be Princess Leia every time you go to Cinnabon.
George Lucas' #1 legacy is Star Wars, and we hope the dude gets "I love you." "I know." engraved on his tombstone…or, better yet, gets his ashes launched into space so he can posthumously make the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs.
And if The Force Awakens teaches us anything, it's that there's still magic in the Star Wars franchise—yes, even PJJB (that's "post-Jar Jar Binks").
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. The saga of how The Force Awakens got made is almost as thrilling as the plot of The Force Awakens. (Wait, never mind—basically nothing is as thrilling as the plot of The Force Awakens.)
A long time ago (or back in 2012), in a galaxy far, far away (or in Hollywood), Lucas sold the rights to Star Wars to the Walt Disney Company. That's right: the Mouse is now in the role of (benevolent) Galactic Emperor.
And Disney didn't buy Star Wars just so they could manufacture Ewok toys. They immediately ordered the production of a final trilogy to create a nine-story Star Wars saga…plus a number of other films to boot.
And in December 2015, we got to see the first chapter of that last trilogy: The Force Awakens.
Fans swooned over director J.J. Abrams' new take on the beloved universe, which shows original heroes like Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) ushering in a new trio of young characters ready to partake in their adventures. Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), and their friends rapidly became fan favorites, and the film quickly found that event-status sweet spot that the original Star Wars enjoyed way back in 1977.
It's not hard to see why. With the help of screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan (who wrote The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi back in the day), Abrams found the same spirit and excitement that we expect from this particular slice of pop culture.
And, to the surprise of exactly no one, the movie rang up almost $2 billion in worldwide box-office sales.
There's more to that than just good marketing. Kasdan was a student of English literature, and he understood the same primal pull that the Greek myths and Arthurian legends tapped into. Lucas brought those moldy oldies to life in a brand-new way with the original Star Wars.
Rey's journey from desert rat nobody to Force-wielding somebody is textbook Hero's Journey stuff…and that's a good thing. Her story is both the stuff of nostalgia—she does classic Hero's Journey things like meeting mentors, fighting the evil Kylo Ren, finding her true path (as well as a few shortcuts through the galaxy), and helping to save a dang planet—and totally original.
This originality comes both in the form of shiny new characters (BB-8 is the cutest droid since WALL-E) and nuanced storytelling. In this chapter of Star Wars, the villain is haunted, the heroes are more jaded than ever, and the light side of the Force seems to have failed the galaxy.
There are a lot of kinks to iron out and questions to answer in the next installments, but one thing's for certain: Star Wars fever (and the Millennium Falcon-patterned bed sheets it inspires) is going nowhere.
Well, we have some good news, and we have some bad news.
The bad news comes first: even though Rey is the undisputed heroine of The Force Awakens, there weren't a whole lot of Rey action figures available after The Force Awakens hit theaters…because people thought that no one would buy a female action figure. (Source)
The good news? Actually, there's quite a bit of good news following this nasty, totally regressive anecdote.
Good news #1: People got mad. They demanded Rey merchandise with the hashtag #wheresrey. (That's one of our two favorite The Force Awakens hashtags, the other being, of course, #emokyloren.)
Good news #2: Rey was the undisputed heroine of The Force Awakens.
We still have a ton of love for the original Star Wars trilogy. We heart all of the original low-tech aliens, we think that the original cantina song is catchier than the one playing in Maz's dive, and any movie starring Alec Guinness gets a big, fat gold star.
But if the original trilogy lacked one thing, it was wokeness.
Princess Leia is tough…but she's still a bit of a damsel in distress (in a gold bikini, no less). Lando Calrissian is awesome…but he's essentially the only person of color in this galaxy far, far away. Pretty much anyone who does anything of note is a straight white dude.
Hmm. That's not great.
But gross merchandise mess-ups aside, we have to give two thumbs up to what The Force Awakens has going on character-wise. One of its protagonists is a woman. One of its protagonists is a black man.
And its antagonist is a…Garnier Fructis model? (Really, though, how is Kylo Ren's hair so shiny?)
We even have to note what's happening in MinorCharactersVille. One of the main stormtroopers is a woman, while all previous stormtroopers were dudes. Princess Leia is a damsel in distress no longer—she's a dang general. And Poe Dameron (who's looking to be a super important character in the next films) is played by Guatemalan-American actor Oscar Isaac.
This is excellent news—it shows that Hollywood is finally waking up to the fact that, despite what the demographics of many films would have us think, our world is not comprised of 99 percent white dudes. And neither are the demographics of galaxies far, far away.
Lupita Nyong'o (who lends her voice to the role of Maz Kanata) is quoted as saying:
There's a universality to the world that George Lucas created that makes it possible for this multicultural cast […] By very nature and with all sorts of creatures, it is, I think, a universe that is made for a multicultural experience. (Source)
We couldn't agree more. And hopefully, now that The Force Awakens has become the first movie to rake in more than $900 million domestically, Hollywood will finally see the sense—and dollars—of making more movies starring women and people of color. (Oh, and villains with super silky hair.)
Star Wars has a lot of fans. As a result, there are a number of famous people occupying hard-to-spot support roles in the film. Unkar Plutt, for example, is played by British actor Simon Pegg, of Shaun of the Dead fame. And the stormtrooper whom Rey mind tricks into releasing her bonds? That's Daniel Craig, fresh from his final stint as James Bond and ready to give the Bad Guy pants a try. (Source)
Notice that weird bar moving across the screen sometimes when the movie shifts from one scene to another? That's called a wipe. It's also one of the things that makes Star Wars Star Wars. George Lucas was a huge fan of Japanese director Akira Kurosawa, who loved using wipes in his epic samurai stories. Lucas used it as a nod to the master, and it's become a tradition for the movies. (Source)
The IMDb Page
For all your cast and crew identification needs.
The biggest wiki for Star Wars gives you their lowdown on the movie.
If you need a one-stop shop for all things Star Wars, this site will hook you up.
The critics weigh in with their thoughts on the movie. Spoiler: they loved it.
Alan Dean Foster wrote the novelization—the same guy who wrote Splinter of the Mind's Eye, the cult classic Star Wars novel.
Variety talks with Daisy Ridley about the role.
Screen Rant covers John Boyega and the art of being Finn.
Ford talks about his return to the role that made him famous.
Fisher's turn…this woman is sharp.
The director speaks. Everybody, be quiet.
The first taste of what was coming.
Han shows up in the film's second trailer.
The last—and we think the best—preview of the film.
Daisy Ridley Interview
A video interview with Rey herself, explaining how to be Rey.
The cast and crew share their thoughts on the film.
The official poster. Of course, it's epic.